Sunday 25 February 2018

Another big test ahead in tricky Welsh block

Rassie Erasmus: congratulations must go to Niall Scannell, who made his international debut against Italy last weekend. He showed the occasion didn’t get to him. Photo: Sportsfile
Rassie Erasmus: congratulations must go to Niall Scannell, who made his international debut against Italy last weekend. He showed the occasion didn’t get to him. Photo: Sportsfile

Rassie Erasmus

As coaches and players we usually like to break our season down into nice, neat blocks, so we were pretty happy to get this four-game stretch off to a good start last weekend with victory over Dragons at Irish Independent Park.

In a competition with clubs from four countries, it is a coincidence that we face four Welsh teams in a row. But one thing's for certain, we face a real in-form team in Ospreys this weekend in the Liberty Stadium.

But how could you not look forward to the challenge of testing yourself against them? Steve Tandy has his side playing some wonderful rugby: they have scored more tries than anyone in the Pro12, and have the second best defensive record in the league too.

Playing them away from home where they have won all seven of their games this season will be a very big test of our team.

It was pleasing for all of us last weekend in Cork to put in a solid display and take all five points.

With so many of the boys away on international duty, it has fallen on other guys to take the lead in training in recent weeks, and we have been pleased with the work we have seen from everyone in this regard.

Guys who have not had too much game-time with the first team have taken their chance again, like they did in November, and many of the squad have continued to show the good form they produced in the last few months too.

What pleased me the most was the way the different combinations managed to slot in together, which can be very difficult.

Function

During the game we had to make some changes in the second-row because of injuries and we still managed to function efficiently in that area. It is a credit to the guys in the pack that the setbacks didn't upset their game.

Also, in the backs we have a few new faces and guys coming back from injury, but we still performed well and the boys took their tries well. It was a pleasing night all round in front of the very lively Irish Independent Park support.

With the win secured it was nice to be able to sit back and watch the rest of the rugby for the weekend, and I was so pleased to see our Munster boys doing so well for Ireland in Italy.

Congratulations to Niall Scannell on his debut; I'm sure it wasn't easy to find out you're in the team at short notice, but Scans is a really calm character and he showed that the occasion didn't affect his ability to deliver under pressure.

For CJ Stander, it was another great day - any time a back-row gets a hat-trick of tries in an international game it must be a strong performance. But his all round game was very good too, and I'm sure he was pleased to win another man of the match award!

Earlsey will be pleased with his game too, especially his two tries, and we are all delighted for Keats to earn his fifth Irish cap. It was great to see John Ryan, Donnacha Ryan, Conor Murray and Simon Zebo representing us in the green shirt too, it is always special when you play for your country.

Even without all those boys, I am very happy with the standards that the squad have been showing in training and on the playing field.

Yes, some of our most experienced players are not available - some of them are back this week - but we also have some incredibly talented players available, who continue to drive standards.

And we will need all of those guys to be on their best form in the next few weeks. Tomorrow we face the team closest to us in the standings and we face them at their place.

Next weekend we have fourth-placed Scarlets coming to Thomond Park, a team that we had a real battle with on the first weekend of the season. And in two weeks' time we are in the Cardiff Arms Park to play the Blues. It is a tough few weeks that we are in the middle of.

As usual we have prepared well for this game and I think that all areas of our game will have to be up to scratch to pick up a result in Swansea. Training has gone well for us, we have had a couple of bumps and bruises to deal with, but we have a few faces back in the group too, which is always pleasing.

This will be my first time in the Liberty Stadium and it is a game we are looking forward to. Last weekend we saw some excellent support from the Munster fans in Cork, and I am sure there will be a few of them in Wales for the weekend too. Hopefully we give them a performance to enjoy.

Irish Independent

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